The Development and Fundraising profession is pivotal to the future effectiveness of charities, to the competitiveness of education institutions, and to the vibrancy of our leading arts and cultural bodies. In a climate of declining government funding, the need for professional fundraisers outstrips the supply of talent, making these tricky jobs to fill. That is particularly true in education, where fundraising is a relatively new phenomenon and a clear career structure and shared understanding of the skills and knowledge needed is not yet well established. However, as the fundraising market becomes more and more competitive and technology races onwards, having an innovative, commercially-minded Director of Fundraising in place couldn’t be more critical. For all of these reasons, organizations cannot afford to go wrong when hiring at this level.
Our Development and Fundraising Team at Society, led by Ruth Davidson and Shehrazade Zafar-Arif (pictured above), specialise in this world and on working with clients to make successful senior appointments. Here they outline the Top Ten questions that they try to help clients bottom out before going to market for a new Director-level hire.
1. Do candidates need to have a traditional fundraising background?
This is an important place to start. Often a solid background in fundraising will be absolutely essential. But not always. Given the relatively small talent pool, it is widely agreed that there is a need for organizations to think more openly and creatively about where they might find a bright and able Director of Fundraising. However, at the moment it is difficult to migrate to Director-level fundraising positions from other related areas. Rather than focusing solely on experience, it is worth considering the underlying skills and qualities required too. One of the great things about these appointments is that the core competencies such as income generation, entrepreneurialism, intellectual curiosity, relationship building (usually with wealthy individuals) and inspiring leadership can potentially be found in candidates from a wide range of backgrounds. We have seen several examples of individuals from non-fundraising backgrounds demonstrating that they have the transferable skills to enter the profession at mid/senior level, including experienced private sector sales professionals, academic publishing experts, Directors of Marketing, and lawyers. From a recruitment perspective, it is important to consider how you might attract interest beyond the usual suspects, for example: using language in your Job Description that is accessible to those who might not be sector insiders,and advertising on job boards that reach a wider senior audience.
2. Is the salary competitive enough?
Salaries in the development and fundraising space vary significantly. Across the wider Not for Profit, Higher Education, Arts, and Schools sectors, there has been upward pressure on salaries far beyond growth in other functional disciplines. This is partly due to the nature of the remit: dealing with very senior people and working with large sums of money. But it is also due to the increasing demand and relatively short supply of individuals possessing such skills and experience. The function of fundraising has moved more quickly than the career arc of many professionals in the space. There is certainly a noticeable and exciting ‘next generation’ of talent emerging. But this talent, whether sitting at Director level already, or still on the rise, is highly employable and therefore tends to come at a cost. For example, we have found that those at mid-management level (eg. 'Head of Major Gifts') within leading research-intensive universities, who are raising five and six figure gifts, are often earning in excess of £50,000 (circa $70,000). Although it can seem like an expensive investment to begin with, in our experience the benefits of hiring an experienced, talented Director of Fundraising to maximise your income generation activity far outweighs the costs in the longer term.
3. Have you got the reporting line right?
When handling a Director of Fundraising appointment, the first questions we'll hear from potential candidates are usually ‘who does the role report into?’ and ‘would I sit on the Senior Management Team?’ This is because time and time again, evidence suggests that fundraising can only be successful with the full support of senior leadership. Directors will want to see that there is a culture of philanthropy across the organisation; that it is respected and understood as a core strategic priority. Where someone is coming to set up a development office from scratch, they will want to see a willingness, understanding and enthusiasm for fundraising, to assure them it will be embraced as a positive change. Showing you recognise this by having the role report into the CEO and sit on the SMT (where possible) is hugely attractive to credible candidates. Of course, at times this is not appropriate or reflective of the structure of the organisation, in which case you need to consider carefully who the appropriate line manager should be and whether they can truly support and represent fundraising at the strategic level (e.g. a Director of External Affairs may be more appropriate than a Chief Operating Officer). Regardless of the reporting line, having your CEO involved in the appointment process along with a fundraiser (often external) can help convey the same message- that you are taking the appointment seriously and want fundraising to be an integral aspect of your organization. This can also be demonstrated through ensuring that fundraising is explicitly picked out as a priority in your Strategic Plan.
4. Are you familiar enough with the nuances of fundraising careers?
It is important to consider the kind of fundraising your new hire will be focussing on, as not all approaches to income generation require the same skills. For example, a trusts and foundations professional will usually be excellent at conveying messages in writing, and an institutional donor fundraiser might spend most of their time working with governments, whereas a major donor fundraiser needs to be exceptional at building face-to-face relationships with high net-worth individuals. At Director-level, while they may be responsible for all of these functions from a strategic standpoint, it’s likely that there will be a need to specialise in one area, depending on what the organisation's needs and ambitions are at that time. Hence, while we do see people transferring from one line of fundraising to another, your interviews should explore what sources candidates have generated income from, the skills required to do so, and thus whether they are the right fit for your organization at the present time.
5. Could you be more flexible with working arrangements?
There is often a misconception that you need to work full-time to be a good leader. But this is not the case, as we have seen from personal experience. Consider whether the position truly requires full-time hours in order to achieve the necessary outcomes, or whether you could consider a more flexible arrangement. From our own research, we have found that there is a large pool of talented mid-senior level fundraisers who require flexible working patterns and are thus deterred from many Director of Fundraising positions that do not offer that freedom. Demonstrating that you embrace a flexible working culture and are open to negotiating on these logistics throughout the appointment process is a great way to attract a wider (and more diverse) pool of candidates. Another issue in the sector is that a large proportion of the fundraising population are concentrated in large cities like London, New York, or Sydney. As such, trying to recruit in more remote locations brings its challenges. Offering the opportunity to work from home or to be based out of a city (where donors are often populated anyway) can open the position to a deeper pool of talent.
6. Is your description of the role truthful and authentic?
When hiring a Director of Fundraising, it is important to be completely clear with potential candidates on the key priorities and strategic goals of the organisation and how this role will fit into them. During the appointment process, you should also be prepared to be open about the organisation’s current financial situation, as this is something good candidates will want to probe into. If the core of the role is about coming in and turning around fundraising during a difficult financial period, or to set up a development office from scratch with little resource around you, then it is best to emphasise the autonomy on offer and the opportunity to drive forward a transformative strategy for the organization. If the role is to join a well-established, high performing team, and to keep things ticking along, then focus your narrative on the opportunity to be part of a proven success story that they can build upon and enhance. It’s important to play to your strengths when going out to market and to not be afraid of the reality of the role. You should also anticipate the questions candidates might ask at interview and have the answers pinned down in advance. For example: 'What are the targets in the first year?' or 'How much did you raise last year and from what sources?'
7. What's your overall attraction strategy?
When putting a role out to market, it’s important to consider not just the Job Description and Person Specification, but your overall attraction strategy - ie. Where is the role being advertised? Are the materials being used engaging? If you're using a recruitment partner, what story are they telling to get people excited about the role and the organization? This is particularly important for fundraisers, as they are looking for a compelling vision and mission that they can turn into a case for support. You should be asking yourself ‘Why would someone want to raise money for this organization?’ and ‘Why is right now an exciting time to join?’ Including personal donor, alumni or staff stories in your Job Profile, along with striking and attractive visual images can all help to enhance the effectiveness of your recruitment campaign.
8. Have you considered your diversity needs?
It’s common knowledge that the fundraising sector is overwhelmingly female (70%) and white (87%), but with a disproportionate number of male directors. It is also underrepresented in terms of disability, religion, sexual orientation, and social class, although not enough research has been done in these areas. That said, the sector is increasingly becoming a champion for better inclusion and thus, candidates will want to see that diversity is weaved into your organizational ethos, which you can convey through your external messaging, Job Profile, and direct conversations at interview stage. Diverse organizations are better organizations. Therefore we should always be considering ways to reach the most diverse field possible. For example, you may need to think about where you have faced obstacles in the past and how you might overcome them. You should also consider the images you are putting out to market when advertising – are they representative of a diverse workforce? And you should reflect upon the structure of your application and interview processes, so that you minimise the scope for unconscious bias (eg. consider trialling name-blind or salary-blind recruitment).
9. Have you picked the right job title?
There is huge variation in role titles for senior fundraisers, compared to other functional areas. Indeed, with a recent fall in public trust across the sector, there has been a shift away from the word ‘fundraising’ and towards more modern terms such as ‘philanthropy’, ‘development’ or ‘advancement’. Selecting the right role title is key, as this is the first headline potential applicants (and donors!) will see. As such, it should truly represent the nature of the role as well as strongly suggesting the scope of the remit, the clout the person will wield within your organization, and the sort of candidates you are likely to be seeking. Options such as ‘Director of External Engagement’ suggest a wider remit than just fundraising, whereas ‘Director of Income Generation’ implies the role will be responsible for leading all revenue streams. 'Director of Fundraising and Communications' suggests that fundraising is probably your priority, whereas 'Director of Communications and Fundraising' implies that it's a secondary consideration. Finally, a 'Head of Fundraising' role might conceivably command exactly the same salary, remit, and reporting line as a 'Director of Fundraising' role, but will send a very different message to potential candidates and the wider world.
10. Are you ready for change?
Many organizations experience something of a revolving door in their philanthropy departments, frequently recruiting from and losing staff to the same familiar locations. There is a temptation when hiring a Director of Fundraising to opt for a ‘safe pair of hands’, someone from within the sector with extensive experience at this level and a good reputation. While often these individuals are indeed the right person for the job, some organizations can benefit from completely fresh ideas, rather than recruiting like-for-like. It is widely agreed that innovation is long overdue across the fundraising world. A combination of today’s political context, the emergence of the millennial generation of donors, and a negative perception of traditional ‘invasive’ fundraising tactics, all point to the need for charities and other institutions to find new ways of raising money from the public. Ask yourself if you're ready to take a calculated risk by going with someone who might bring a fresh perspective to bear.